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It’s Simple for Oklahoma State: Run the Football

If the Cowboys want to get back to double-digit wins, they will have to establish a run game.

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Getty Images - John Weast

At 6-4, 220 pounds, Mason Rudolph is the picture of the desired NFL quarterback. His strong arm is only exceeded by his command of the offense as well as his calmness in the pocket. Oklahoma State truly hit the jackpot when head coach Mike Gundy threw the young true freshman into the fire against Baylor in Waco.

For all his attributes and skills, Rudolph’s play has been hindered by some less than fortunate offensive line play. With Rudolph’s struggles, Oklahoma State’s goals were slowly taken away from them. For the Cowboys to threaten for a conference title and beyond, Rudolph cannot be lone star on offense — the running game must return.

Last season, Oklahoma State rushed for just over 1,600 yards as a team. If it was not for our friends in Lawrence, the Cowboys would be alone in the basement in terms of team rushing numbers. If that does not give you enough cause to worry — the individual Big 12 leader in rushing last season, Wendell Smallwood, rushed for 1,519 yards on his own.

Despite the less than stellar running attack, the Cowboys still won 10 games and earned a spot in the Sugar Bowl —  a season that many OSU fans viewed as a disappointment. A disappointment when contrasted to the sheer volume of the extraordinary talent Gundy and company have been able to bring to Stillwater over the past few recruiting classes. It is easy to assume that as sub par as the run blocking was in 2015, the improvements that follow with experience and age are due.

The addition of Barry Sanders, Jr. is the root of much optimism for the orange faithful. Cowboy fans cannot help but have flashbacks of his father dancing in their heads. If that does not do it for late 80’s nostalgia, how about the recent mullet Gundy has sprouted? Perhaps the Stanford transfer is the adrenaline needed for the Cowboys to fix their greatest need: reliable run game.

The Cowboys expect an offensive line dominated by upperclassmen. Early tests against (“the run defenses of”? — is that what you’re alluding to) Central Michigan, Pittsburgh and Texas could be a blessing in disguise for Oklahoma State. Run-heavy philosophy will be prevalent early and often in order for OSU to see if their work in the offseason has paid off. With Rudolph further entrenched in the quarterback spot and the Cowboys touting one of the best receiving corps in the conference led by James Washington.

One large departure from last year the Cowboys must replace is the production of former quarterback J.W. Walsh. Out of the 25 total rushing touchdowns Oklahoma State ran for last season, Walsh was responsible for 13 of them. Yes, most of the scores were short yardage gimmes, but the production is hard to argue with.

With the lack of success from other options last season, it is easy to immediately discredit the Cowboys. Not so fast. The combination of Rudolph gaining experience and confidence along with the addition of Sanders, Jr. should be enough for the Cowboys to be a force in the Big 12.

With Walsh gone, Rudolph will no longer worry about his rhythm being ruined by a quarterback change in the red zone. The confidence will be high and the performance should follow suit. Another year of Rudolph throwing bombs to Washington will do damage to conference foe’s secondaries. The Big 12 is all about passing the ball, by the way.

Despite being a Senior graduate transfer, Barry Sanders, Jr. remains primarily an unknown. Despite the name and some heavy recruiting, his production was less than stellar at Stanford. Whether it was the style of play or the emergence of Heisman hopeful Christian McCaffrey, Sanders, Jr. was never able to really assert himself as a dominant back.

But like in every sport, culture and location play a major role in a player’s fortunes. Stillwater is the place his father became the greatest running back in college football history. With a glaring need to improve the running game, Sanders, Jr., the aging offensive line — and of course Gundy’s mullet powers — the running game will return to prominence.

Last season Central Michigan exposed the Cowboys’ inability to run the ball in week one. OSU has been foaming at the mouth all summer to show the conference that their offensive line will produce. With the 2016 season a hair over two weeks away, look for the Cowboys to assert their will on the ground early in 2016. The Cowboys are left with no other choice. No viable run game means no way the Cowboys improve on the win tally from 2015. If the pokes want to hoist conference hardware at the end of the regular season, the rest of the country will need to fear their running attack.

No one would love this more than their NFL-level quarterback, Rudolph.

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